Is South Jersey a Portal to Oz?

“If one place is as good as any other, it’s high time we decided. Otherwise when we get there, we won’t know we’ve arrived.”—Dr. Dolittle


Everybody has heard of Bigfoot. Villages all around Loch Ness hold festivals dedicated to Nessie. Even yetis living in the remote Himalayas are common knowledge. So what does a cryptid living near one of the most heavily populated areas in the world have to do to get a little recognition? Oh sure, it has a major league hockey team named after it – a pretty impressive accomplishment on the surface – but nobody knows that’s why they’re called that.¹ Even the team logo implies a more traditional demonic figure than an actual depiction of the long-leggedy beastie that is their namesake. Let’s face it, the Jersey Devil deserves a lot more pub than it has ever gotten. The Mothman is more famous, and he didn’t even arrive on the scene until the late 1960s.

Even his colorful (if inaccurate) reputed origin is the stuff of legends. The most accepted version of the story holds that a woman named Leeds living in southern New Jersey in 1735 was expecting her thirteenth child, and she was none too happy about it. She reportedly cried out in a fit of exasperation “Let this one be a devil!” which is a pretty strange thing to say. Did she think that having a hell-spawn would make it easier to raise?

Anyway, she supposedly gave birth to a perfectly normal boy, but as she held him, he sprouted horns, talons, a forked tail and bat wings. His feet turned to hooves, his head became elongated and his eyes began glowing red. He promptly killed at least one midwife and maybe a few siblings and possibly his mother, depending on which version of the story you read, then flew up the chimney and disappeared into the Pine Barrens, a thick forest covering part of the region. That’s where he’s been ever since, at least for the most part.

Legends of the creature actually date back to Native American tribes living in the area, and early explorers at least heard the stories even if they didn’t encounter him themselves. But this hasn’t stopped local historians and Devil enthusiasts from trying to trace his lineage. Most agree that the parents of the beast were Deborah and Japhet Leeds, based primarily on the fact that they Standard Devilhad 12 children and lived in Leeds Point in the heart of Devil country at that time. One of their descendants runs the Jersey Devil Museum² and says that he considers the monster to be family. Hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

A minister is said to have exorcised the Devil for 100 years in 1740. Some say that this worked and that the thing was not seen again until 1840. Other sources say otherwise. In any event, this is the only case of an exorcism with an expiration date that I’ve ever come across, leaving me to wonder if the holy man who performed it thought that we might want this creature back at some point.

Descriptions of the Devil vary in detail, but most who claim to have seen it describe something like the picture above. Its size has been reported as being from 3’ to 10’ tall and everything in between. It has been seen both on the ground and flying through the air. Others have reported seeing very different types of creatures, all of which get lumped into the Jersey Devil category. We’ll return to this later. Another more common discrepancy is the footprints left behind. They are usually hoofprints, sometimes as large as a man’s hand, but sometimes prints are found that are like a huge, three-toed bird. More often than being seen, the creature is heard. Its scream is said to be piercing and full of rage. One camper who heard something large walking around his tent late at night heard the thing scream several times and said that it was as loud as an air horn.

Some of the more notable sightings include Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, who says that he ran into it around 1820 while hunting. Commodore Stephen Decatur was testing cannonballs in the countryside when he saw it flying across the sky. He claims that he fired at the creature and hit it, with no effect. (Wait. He hit a roughly human-sized object flying through the air with a cannonball? Whatever you say, Commodore.) In 1840, the year that the exorcism expired, the Devil ran amok and killed dozens of farm animals. This continued into 1841. The creature’s screams were heard coming from the woods, but posses never managed to catch up with it. I wonder how hard they tried.

Delaware ValleyWhile sporadic sightings continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, it was in 1909 that all hell broke loose. Between January 16th and 23rd of that year, the Devil terrorized the Delaware Valley, putting in appearances not only in New Jersey, but also eastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. During that eight day period, hundreds of people saw similar (and some not so similar) creatures. Some of these were mass sightings and/or included police firing on the beast. Some of the highlights include the patrons of the Black Hawk Social Club in Camden, NJ seeing the creature watching them through a window at 1 am on January 20th.. One of the men inside somehow “scared it off” and it flew away screaming. On January 21st, a number of trolley passengers in Haddon Heights, NJ were buzzed by the Devil around 2 am. It repeatedly flew circles around the trolley, emitting its terrible scream before flying off into the night. Later that same day, two men walking down the street in West Collingswood, NJ saw what they first thought was an ostrich sitting on top of a house. They called the fire department (?), which arrived shortly thereafter and turned their hose on the thing. It started to fly off, then evidently changed its mind and came straight at them before veering off and flying away.

And my two favorites: On the 19th, around 2:30 am, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans (married women didn’t have first names back then) were awakened by “a strange noise” at their home in Gloucester. They watched the Devil walk around in their yard for about ten minutes before Mr. Evans opened the window and said “Shoo!” The creature turned and barked at them before flying away.

They made it go away by saying “shoo?” Suddenly this devil doesn’t seem all that devilish. I’ve never heard of anyone using that approach before, but it seems to work. If any of you ever run into any supernatural beastie, try telling it to “shoo” and let me know how that works out for you. Or better yet:

On January 21st, again in Camden, Mary Sorbinski heard noises coming from her backyard around 7 pm and went out to see what was going on. She saw the monster holding her dog in its clutches and began hitting it with a broom. The creature dropped the dog, shrieked and then lunged at her. But instead of tearing her apart, it turned upward at the last second and flew away. Apparently the adrenaline had worn off by that point, because that was when she started screaming. A crowd of neighbors came running and the police were called. After two officers had arrived, the creature’s scream was heard again from nearby and the policemen ran in that direction. The officers saw the silhouette of the Devil in the darkness standing on top of a hill and emptied their revolvers at it with no effect. It flew away yet again.

She hit it with a broom and that worked? This thing is getting less demonic by the minute. If she’d had a rubber chicken, she probably would have killed it.

And I hate to be a one-note banjo, but I feel that I have to remind you at this point that there is no reliable record of this or any other seemingly paranormal entity ever seriously harming a human being, other than in the very dubious legend of its birth. It (or they) certainly seemed to want to hurt someone on a number of occasions, and it was almost certainly capable of doing so given the descriptions of the creature, but at the last second it always just turned and flew away. However frightening and traumatic encounters with everything from aliens to monsters to poltergeists might be, killing us seems to be strictly off limits…unless, of course, you live in Brazil. They seem to have a whole different set of rules down there, but that’s a story for another day. In any case, if you encounter anything nasty, just blow your dog whistle and hit ‘em with your rubber chicken and/or tell them to “shoo” and you should be fine.

So the Devil seemed pretty easy to get rid of. Nevertheless, by the end of the week, the whole region was in a panic. Most trolley companies had put armed guards on their trollies to protect passengers. Schools closed and factories and businesses had to shut down when employees refused to leave their homes to go to work, even in daylight.

Devil Prints?There were also the footprints. They seem to have been everywhere. They were so numerous in some towns that it appeared as if an army of Devils had visited them in the night. Most of them were hoofprints, but of varying sizes, just like the creatures reported during the invasion. The prints went over and under fences, from the ground up to rooftops and from one roof to another. They often stopped abruptly in the middle of streets or fields, all of which is reminiscent of “the Devil’s footprints” found in Devon, England in 1855, but on a much larger scale. Dogs brought in to follow the scent of whatever left these tracks declined to do so. Maybe they were aware that the moratorium on killing humans didn’t apply to them. Dogs aren’t fools.

Then, on January 24th, it just stopped. Your guess is as good as anyone’s as to what triggered or ended the onslaught. There was only one sighting reported in February, and for the last 100+ years there have only been a dozen or so reported encounters per year.

What originally fascinated me about the Devil is that it seems unlikely that we are even talking about one species, let alone one creature. He is usually described in the generally agreed upon manner, with a few more or less minor differences here and there, such as size. The smaller ones were also frequently described as having sleeker bodies, often compared to that of a kangaroo. Some had horns like a goat while others had antlers. But some others witnesses have described seeing a creature with four legs, a body like a horse, and a dragon-like head and wings. Sometimes the wings were so small that they would probably have been described as comical on such a large creature if the witnesses hadn’t been so freaked out. Still others have seen something in the area like a huge feline that seemed somehow demonic. Perhaps all of us would describe a giant cat as looking a bit diabolical if we were to stumble upon it unexpectedly in New Jersey, but the witnesses seem to suggest that there was something disturbingly otherworldly about this creature. It just didn’t look like something that would come from here…as opposed to the other creatures I guess. One witness even said that it had what almost appeared to be an evil grin, like some kind of Cheshire Cat from Hell. And of course, the ubiquitous big hairy monsters have also been seen, although some of the ones in Jersey weren’t that big and had faces that were completely covered by hair, assuming that they had faces.

Horse DevilI mentioned earlier that the Native Americans in the region knew about the Devil before any settlers showed up. This is true of most areas of high strangeness. The Utes of northeastern Utah want nothing to do with the place that has come to be known as Skinwalker Ranch. The area around Dulce, New Mexico, home of the Jicarilla Apaches, has been a hotbed of paranormal activity for as far back as anyone knows. The region of West Virginia where the whole Mothman/Silver Bridge saga took place was one of the few areas of North America uninhabited by humans until the Europeans showed up. The local natives steered a wide birth around it. There also appears to have been a mysterious group of mound builders who lived in the area at some time, but we don’t know much about them.

We find this to be true again and again. When white people announce that a lot of weird stuff seems to happen in a certain place, we aren’t telling the Native Americans there anything that they didn’t already know. This is significant because it indicates that there is something unique about these places that remains consistent. The amount of paranormal activity ebbs and flows over time, but the locations remain constant. It’s only our short memories combined with most people’s refusal to take such stories seriously that leads us to believe that these phenomena just suddenly erupt in random locations, although sometimes that may happen as well. Outbreaks of cattle mutilations and a variety of other bizarre occurrences take place every few years a fairly short drive from where I sit writing this, although you’d probably never know it just by watching the local news. Something similar may well be true of wherever you are right now.

Is it possible that there are areas of instability in our world – eddies in the space-time continuum – in which portals open between this and other planets or dimensions? What appear to be portals between worlds have been reported in some places like those mentioned above. Some Native Americans have informed us that we will never catch or kill creatures like Sasquatch because they can step in and out of our reality at will. Maybe this is easier to do in some places more than others. Perhaps sometimes creatures enter our world without meaning to and vice versa.³ That could put anybody in a bad mood.


¹The Devils aren’t the only sports team named after a paranormal entity. There’s also the Vermont Lake Monsters, named after Champ, the Lake Champlain monster; the Casper Ghosts, unfortunately no longer around; and the Las Vegas 51s, named after Area 51 and with a gray alien with baseball stitching on his head as their mascot. (I would include a photo, but MLB would sue the crap out of me.) These are all minor league baseball teams, who clearly have a better sense of humor than their major league counterparts. So the Devils are the only big league team named after a local cryptid, although the Cleveland Indians mascot looks a lot more like descriptions of the Grinning Man than any actual human I’ve ever seen. I’d run like hell if I ever bumped into something that looks like him in a dark alley.

²Although since its URL now redirects to a paranormal bookstore site, I’m guessing that the museum didn’t make it.

³More on this to come as well.

and all the devils are here


Comments are closed.